A week after the breakup, I did as I was told and went to a matinee. On the phone, my friend Kevin said that's what single women in their mid-thirties do when they're heartbroken. They eat popcorn and cry. If it's a good movie, they feel grateful to be alone again.
No having to share popcorn, I said. Or holding hands for so long your palms get sweaty.
That's only in the beginning of the relationship, he said.
I haven't made it past the two-month mark in so long, handholding seems mandatory.
This means you get to finish writing your novel, he said. I'm tired of being surrounded by people in New York who don't finish their books.
Maybe I don't want to finish it.
You're depressed now, but when you see a matinee, you'll feel better. Before you go, write a story about to going to see a matinee. And then send it to me.
I don't want to work. I want to hold hands, I said.
You can hold mine.
You're in New York.
When are you coming back? I'll pay for your trip if you get rid of the mice in my apartment.
Use a broom.
And sweep them up?
No, crush them with it.
I'm afraid, he said.
Do you think we're going to end up like When Harry Met Sally?
Only if you promise that you'll fake an orgasm the next time we're in a diner together.
I can't even think about orgasms right now. God only knows the next time I'll have one.
Obviously, you're not a boy.
I'm not counting that.
That's good, he said. Save it for your book.
Do you have any good movie suggestions?
I saw that Godard movie, My Life to Live. It's about a prostitute in Paris. His wife at the time, Anna Karina, is the star, and it's clear from every shot how much he loves her. There's one scene where she's writing a letter, and you know how normally you get a voiceover reading the letter? No one's talking, but we see every detail of her hand as it's writing, because Godard loved even her hand.
I remember love like that, I said. Like in Reds, where Diane Keaton walks for miles through the frozen tundra for Warren Beatty.
Do you think that love negates all the other love you ever thought you felt?
No, because you don't know any better.
Are you sure you won't come and kill the mice in my apartment?
Unlike Manhattan, Providence matinees are half-price, and one theater shows second-run movies for a dollar-seventy-five. Because I'm a fan of Andre Dubus's stories, I decided to see In the Bedroom, but before I went, I had to get through lunch with my ex. My ex of one week. Lunch with an ex after one week is not a meal, it's a direct question: Do you still want to sleep with me? For protection, I bought my ticket before I met Alexei at the restaurant. Kevin had warned that we'd sleep together that night if we had lunch. The matinee is good, he said. You'll have somewhere else to go.
Lunch was boring. We didn't talk about the breakup and I couldn't eat. Alexei was handsome in dark blue jeans and a white linen shirt I'd never seen him wear before. Our first month together was bliss, daily jokes about the continuing escapades of silly monkey (me) and the rabbit (him), then sex right before falling asleep and immediately upon waking. He was just the right size for me. I loved touching his chest. I loved his chest more than I loved him, but I didn't know that the first month. The second month we slept together less often. I had PMS episodes once a week, and blamed the fact we'd become involved only a week after we met. I'd turned into a happy idiot the first month, happy, yes, but still an idiot who was too happy to do any work, and didn't know what to do in the second month when the happiness wore off and the idiocy remained. Alexei was Russian, finishing his dissertation in communications, and an Aries. He'd ask if I wanted something, like more dessert or to take a shower. “No, thanks,” I'd say. “I insist,” he'd say. “Oh. Okay,” said the silly monkey.
Lunch was over. I cried only once. Alexei walked me halfway down the block to my car. He gave me back my things, a pair of Chinese slippers and a deck of “Power-Thought Cards” by Louise Hay he'd bought me as a joke in the fifth week. I apologized for being an idiot. “I let you go too fast with me,” I said. “I fucked up from day one.”
“No,” he said. “Day one was good.”
I touched his chest under the white linen. I still wanted to sleep with him. “Good-bye chest,” I whispered.
Alexei kissed my forehead and said, “We'll play tennis. We'll do things the way we should have from the beginning.”
“We'll play tennis,” I repeated, idiotically.
Alexei shook my hand. I didn't want to let go. I had time to kill before the matinee. I wanted his hand, his chest, his beautiful penis to stay, but I wanted him to leave.
“Call me when you're up for a game,” he said.
“Goodbye,” I said and let go.
He waved as he walked away. I started my car. I missed breakups in New York, where invariably someone descends into the subway. I didn't like watching him on street level walk back to his car. I didn't like how available he felt, still.
I ate peanut M&M's instead of popcorn. I cried twice, once during the funeral scene, when the husband holds his wife's shoulder in a tender grip as she grieves the death of their only son. Once when they say vicious things to each other that they resolve with the gentle forgiveness of the serenely married. I marveled when the father murders their son's killer and comes home to his wife smoking in bed, aware of what he's done. He gets into bed and pulls a bandage off a cut he got while opening a lobster trap that had been his son's. I didn't move until I memorized the sight of the wife's cigarette smoldering in the ashtray while against the wreathing smoke, we see the father's finger is healed.
In the dark, I watched the credits and wondered how Dubus had written that visual image in his short story. Outside, I waited for my eyes to adjust to the afternoon light before I was able to drive away from the theater. I didn't call Kevin to tell him about the matinee—three days passed before we spoke again. A week passed and I didn't call my ex to play tennis. I took advantage of spring outside Manhattan and planted flowers in my small front yard. I made arrangements to interview another state trooper for my book. I reread “Killings” by Dubus, and noted there were no lobsters and no cuts, and the mother didn't smoke.
I stayed late one night at my office and wrote the short story Kevin told me to write. It was nearly sunrise when I finished, and instead of driving home for breakfast, I found the bike path that wound along the East Bay down to Bristol. I parked my car in Riverside and put on sneakers. The sun broke over the horizon. I walked for miles and thought about the different ways to kill mice.